Thursday, 28 February 2013

Carrying out Local History Research at Worcester Cathedral's Archive.

By Vanda Bartoszuk
Have you ever wondered about the history of your village, house, church or other building? When was it built? Why was it built? Who owned it? who lived there? Then perhaps we can help you.In the Cathedral Library we maintain not only books but many documents relating to holdings of the medieval Cathedral Priory of Worcester, some dating back to the thirteenth century, and from 1540 onward the archives of the Protestant Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral.
If you are not sure where to start your research, then our Librarian is able to guide your search using our holdings.  Added to which, many of the library volunteers have their own areas of research and are willing to share their expertise to help you.It's a good idea to begin your research from what you know for certain and work back gradually step by step. Maps are a brilliant place to start as Ordnance Survey maps dating back to the nineteenth century are easily available to be searched online or in your local Record Office.


Once you have established the place you are searching for was around in the nineteenth century then the Tithe and Enclosure maps and associated apportionments are particularly useful to take you a step further back in time.
These photographs are Pre-Enclosure and Post-Enclosure maps of Iccomb showing how the former medieval land management system which consisted of strips of individual holdings around the village were later turned into large single ownership fields.
This photo is copyright of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral, UK

This photo is copyright of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral, UK

From the sixteenth century onward, some landowners, including the Dean and Chapter, began to employ surveyors and cartographers to make maps of their lands. These maps can provide not only details of the boundaries of the estate but also the houses that were there and sometimes who owned them. They might include information on adjoining manors and parishes. And don't forget to look for early books that have been published covering your area they may include maps.
This photo is copyright of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral, UK

Section of map from The History and Antiquities of the City and Suburbs of Worcester by Valentine Green published in 1796

Deeds are another source of information.  Owners or holders of property are said to have a 'title' to that property and the term deeds is the collective name for a variety of documents which help to prove that title.   Many deeds can appear complicated but don't be put off as they are formulaic and the information contained within them is easily understood once you grasp the way they are laid out.
Deeds can provide a vital means of tracing the history of a particular piece of land, building or house.   They may even include information on previous owners, previous uses and even previous rights associated with the property.  They can even sometimes contain detailed descriptions of the property at a particular date, if you are lucky perhaps they may even include lists of fixtures and fittings!
This photo is copyright of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral, UK

This is a cathedral lease of 1768

Manorial Records

To go even further back in time manorial records can be useful for family history as tenants of the Lord of the Manor appear in many of the court rolls and rentals. The names of the pieces of land they held can survive down the centuries to be still traceable today.  Another avenue to explore may be a manorial rental.  This was a list of the names of all tenants who held land in the manor, together with a description of the land they held and a record of the rent they paid.  
This photo is copyright of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral, UK

A rental about Himbleton village from 29th July 1502 in the reign of King Henry VII

The manorial system in England and parts of Wales affected much of the population until well into the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In fact some manorial courts operated in a few areas until the early years of the 20th century.

And Last but not Least - Things are not always what they seem:

On maps North is not always at the top!  Always look to see if a Compass Rose or North Arrow is drawn on the map.

The scales vary.  Some of these will be easy to interpret, for example six inches to a mile. Others are more difficult, referring to measurements such as roods and chains and yet others may be represented graphically, using a calibrated bar.

Roads move.  Look out for trackways, some become roads, some disappear, but they lead somewhere, or used to lead somewhere.

Names change.  Clerks sometimes had to choose between various phonetic spellings of local names.

Finally, as with any piece of research, there will be dead ends and disappointments, but don’t give up.  If one line of research comes to a halt, retrace your steps to known facts and start again – every house, church or village will have a different history that requires a unique research path.

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